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North Adams Regional Hospital has reopened for inpatient care, exactly a decade after it abruptly closed | Northern Berkshires

NORTH ADAMS — North Adams Regional Hospital closed 10 years ago to the day.

On Thursday, it was revived.

Berkshire Health Systems CEO Darlene Rodowicz said she had a smile on her face all day, but she recognized the gravity of the moment.

“Exactly 10 years ago today, this hospital, under previous ownership, closed its doors,” Rodowicz told the more than 100 people gathered under a tent for a ribbon-cutting event on the hospital’s campus. “It was a day that was full of tears, anger and fear in the Northern Berkshire Community, about where and how residents would be able to receive what should be a fundamental right for everyone: access to health care.”

The hospital had its first inpatient admission on Thursday.

With the 10-year anniversary of the hospital’s closing, what would’ve otherwise been a mournful occasion became cause for celebration, as local, state and federal dignitaries gathered at the hospital.

Berkshire Health Systems CEO and President Darlene Rodowicz speaks during Thursday’s event to celebrate the reopening of North Adams Regional Hospital. “I’m as thrilled as you are that the new North Adams Regional Hospital will again be here to provide residents with the care they deserve close to home,” she said.

“I’m honored to stand here today … as a lifelong resident of Berkshire County, I’m as thrilled as you are that the new North Adams Regional Hospital will again be here to provide residents with the care they deserve close to home,” Rodowicz added.

News last summer that NARH could reopen as a critical access hospital brought joy and relief to northern Berkshire County, as residents, medical professionals, municipal, state and federal officials rejoiced. They have said in the months since how much safer, and convenient, it will be to have a hospital closer to the area, as residents often are stuck between driving to Bennington, Vt., or Pittsfield.

But a long, bureaucratic process to secure state and federal approvals remained. That nearly 10-month process is almost finished; the health system has cleared all the hurdles necessary to begin serving patients; though it cannot pay for patients through the Medicare and Medicaid refund that comes with being a critical access hospital until the state Department of Public Health, acting on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, conducts an unannounced survey.

Massachusetts Health & Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh stressed the importance of “swing” or “flex” beds at critical access hospitals, which allow patients to recover from acute care in the hospital, rather than a nursing home, before heading home.

“Critical access hospitals can respond to the needs of the community, and they can flex the beds in the way that makes the most sense for the patients they serve,” Walsh said. “That flexibility is why this hospital will be here many years from now.”

A critical access hospital designation also triggers increased cost-based reimbursement for provided services, which Rodowicz has said would prevent a reopened North Adams Regional Hospital from operating at a loss.

When the hospital closed in 2014, not only did residents lose nearby access to health care: About 530 people lost their jobs in a matter of days. The effects were widely felt.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, speaks during Thursday’s event to mark the reopening of North Adams Regional Hospital. “America’s got a real challenge with rural health care,” Neal said. “Today we celebrate this opening against all odds; this return is for all of you in Berkshire County.”

In the years since, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and others have since tried to find a way for NARH to gain critical access hospital designation. Finally, the CMS proposed a regulatory change in June of last year, finalizing it in November.

“[Rodowicz] said, ‘If you could just get this language shifted,'” Neal said, pausing for laughter. “I’m from Springfield; I was up to the task. She indicated to me this is going to be a bit of a geographic challenge, so we were able to convince the administration. … We were able to change the language.”

Under the previous parameters, North Adams was too close to hospitals in Pittsfield and Bennington to be designated a critical access hospital. But the change effectively narrowed the required radius, allowing North Adams to qualify for that designation.

Neal also spoke of health equity for rural areas Thursday.

“Most of the stories, overwhelmingly, across America, are about hospital closures,” he said. “America’s got a real challenge with rural health care. Today we celebrate this opening against all odds; this return is for all of you in Berkshire County.”

People walk inside the lobby of North Adams Regional Hospital, which officially opened on Thursday — 10 years to the day after it abruptly closed.

State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, recalled his late wife worked at the former NARH, in speaking about how important local hospitals are as community institutions. Barrett was mayor of the city years prior to the hospital’s closure. He gave credit to Neal for inpatient care returning to North Adams.

“A lot of people made this work, but the one person who put it all together, and I suggest they name the lobby after him — Congressman Richard Neal,” he said. “He got it done. He pulled off something that no one ever thought would happen.”

Berkshire Health Systems purchased the hospital just months after the closure. As the North Adams Campus of Berkshire Medical Center, it has since opened an emergency department, a cardiac rehabilitation unit and resumed providing numerous outpatient services.

Reopening involved a $2.85 million renovation to the existing facilities to prepare 18 inpatient beds. Rodowicz has said the hospital will slowly ramp up its care — the plan is to start with three or four patients, and work up to 10. Filling 18 beds is a longer-term goal.

North Adams Mayor Jennifer Macksey, who lives near the hospital and moved into her home about the same time as its initial closure, discussed the importance to the city of a reopened NARH.

People gather at the entrance of North Adams Regional Hospital on Thursday to celebrate its reopening 10 years to the day after it abruptly closed.

“I always hoped and dreamt there’d be life back in this campus,” Macksey said. “People didn’t realize at the time how much of an impact the closing of this hospital had, not only on health care, but the economic dynamic of the city of North Adams and our surrounding communities.”

Macksey added that the new hospital “is not only an important investment in our community, but the well-being and medical standards we need here in Berkshire County, especially in North Adams.”


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